Yellow Pages: Alive And Well Or Dying Media Fossil?
Opinions these days vary widely on the relevance of a decades-old means of advertising: the Yellow Pages. You may think they amount to a dying media fossil. But there are still small businesses that swear by them. And those who produce the Yellow Pages insist the big phone books aren't going anywhere. Jessica Eiden-Smedley isn't a fan of the Yellow Pages. But she did get one benefit from the latest edition that was delivered this month - a nice orange bag to pick up after her dog. In fact, she can't remember the last time she used them. Her latest copy didn't even make it into the house. "We had just came home from vacation and they were sitting right here on the porch by the front door," she says. "And I grabbed them - I knew exactly what they were - removed them from the bag and took them straight to the recycling bin." And just like that, Eiden-Smedley threw out the thousands of businesses who'd paid to advertise to the Yellow Pages. If she needs to track down a specific product or service, Eiden-Smedley will use the Internet. She'll do a Google search or maybe even go to Angie's List. "For me personally, I'd rather make a decision based on word of mouth or some type or review site, rather than blindly picking a name out of the phonebook," she says. OrthoCarolina doesn't have much need for the Yellow Pages either. The Charlotte company advertised in the Yellow Pages every year until Blair Primis came on board as the head of advertising two years. He's convinced his company gets better value when it spends money on Internet searches like Google. Plus, he thinks social networking has pretty much done away with the need for Yellow Pages, which he calls his generation's 8-track tape. "Somebody can go to Facebook and say 'Hey can I get a recommendation for a good auto mechanic?'," he says. "You no longer need the Yellow Pages for that. You just get a recommendation from your friends on Facebook, or on Twitter, or whatever the case may be, completely replacing what you might get in the Yellow Pages." But in Rock Hill, Dean Inkelaar isn't ready to put dirt on the Yellow Pages just yet. He's been advertising for nearly 17 years in the big phone books. Inkelaar runs a company called AAA City Plumbing. He says he spends about $225,000 a year on Yellow Pages advertising. "That's still a huge part of our revenue," Inkelaar says. "We keep track of every single call that comes through here on where it comes from. And I would probably say that still 80 to 85% of our calls are still coming from Yellow Pages." The funny thing is, Inkelaar doesn't use the Yellow Pages much anymore. He prefers Internet searches for his own needs. But he knows he gets about 60 calls a month on a special phone number that's only in the Yellow Pages. He paid $72,000 for an ad located on outer edge of this year's Charlotte edition. Bob Mueller (pronounced "Miller") oversees Yellow Pages production for AT&T. "The print book still drives the kind of calls that a business wants," he says. "To think that print Yellow Pages is obsolete is just absolutely, patently false." Mueller says the Yellow Pages are one of those things you don't need every day. "But when you have a pipe leaking in your basement, it's a great source to turn to and find the right kind of information fast," he says. So which is it? Are the Yellow Pages alive and well? Or, are they outdated with only a handful of businesses and customers still buying in? Author Ammon Shea wrote a book about the Yellow Pages last year. He thinks they're like newspapers - they've been around way too long to go away quickly. "Massive advertising campaigns throughout the decades really convinced a lot of people that this was indispensable," Shea says. "And for many people it was, in fact. So I think that kind of residual feeling will die very slowly." Ammon says one thing that struck him in his research was just how strongly both critics and defenders of the Yellow Pages feel. And he says how much a person uses the Yellow Pages tends to effect when - or even if - they think the phone books might cease to exist.